FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Donald Gerspach, deputy chief of nonlethal weapons for the U.S. Army Military Police School’s Army Nonlethal Scalable Effects Center, is Fort Leonard Wood’s 2022 Retiree of the Year.
According to Fort Leonard Wood Retirement Services Officer Noah Stevens, each year the Fort Leonard Wood Retiree Council honors a retiree who continues the noble work of service to their country, fellow retirees and veterans. Gerspach was presented with a plaque signifying his award during the Retiree Appreciation Days dinner on Sept. 9 at the John B. Mahaffey Museum Complex.
“Retirees are a vital part of our military family, and their experiences and expertise counts,” Stevens said. “Mr. Gerspach continues to display distinguished service after retirement.”
Gerspach retired from the Army as a sergeant first class in 2003 and is an active member of both the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. The list of his activities is long, he said, but for him, serving the community just comes naturally.
“I don’t really pay that much attention to how much I am doing, but when I sit back and think about it, I do quite a bit,” he said. “This recognition means that somebody is noticing what I’m doing out there.”
Gerspach said a newspaper article highlighting military occupational specialties aimed at recruiting Soldiers in the years following the Vietnam War inspired his more than two decades of service.
“I thought the Army might be a good idea for me, and a good fit,” he said. “So, I gave it a try and it worked.”
Gerspach joined the Army as an MP in 1983, and completed initial entry training at Fort McClellan, Alabama. In the years that followed, he served in locations all over the world. After concluding his military service, Gerspach retired to the Fort Leonard Wood area and began working for ANSEC.
“I’ve been right here for 17 years,” he said.
When it comes to Gerspach’s community service, one activity stands out to him — his involvement with the Missing in America Project, a non-profit organization that locates, identifies and recovers the remains of unclaimed veterans and arranges for military honors funerals. Gerspach serves as regional coordinator.
“The one thing that all veterans with an honorable discharge are entitled to, but nobody really pays that much attention to, is their military honors funeral,” he said. “It’s important to have that military honors funeral because that’s really the last benefit a veteran is ever going to get. When they are alive, they get their Department of Veterans Affairs benefits, disability or education benefits, but nobody ever talks about the military honors funeral.”
Gerspach said when a veteran doesn’t make plans with their family, sometimes they can die without anyone knowing. In those cases, he works hand-in-hand with local coroner’s offices and funeral homes to locate remains, verify the individual’s veteran status and try to find living relatives. If none can be found, or the family does not wish to claim them, he takes possession himself and works to arrange a funeral.
Most recently, he helped coordinate the funerals of four Vietnam-era veterans, who were interred in the Missouri State Veterans Cemetery – Fort Leonard Wood during a public ceremony in May. The next local funeral organized by the MIAP will be for an unclaimed Airman with no known family members. It is scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Missouri State Veterans Cemetery – Fort Leonard Wood. The event is open to the public.
As for Gerspach’s future plans, he said he wants to continue his mission of helping veterans get the honors they deserve for the foreseeable future. He eventually plans to retire to Tennessee, to be closer to family and continue his role with the MIAP.
He had some advice for current and potential Soldiers.
“Military service is the way to go,” Gerspach said. “It has a lot of benefits, and I feel like it’s almost a responsibility. I strongly encourage it, and afterwards, I recommend continuing service through local veteran’s service organizations.”